Transparency Is A Characteristic, Not A Goal

I have been witnessing some strange things lately, not sure if you have noticed it too. For one, it is nearly 95 degrees outside, and I live in northern Vermont. I am not used to the heat; however the heat wave might be having a impact, making people do strange things. The strangeness I am witnessing is that people are nitpicking on every single word used or being contrarian, just to be contrarian (some blog reference guide suggests this is a good way to get page views). People suggest that if a word is used too much it is a buzzword. If it is used way too much it is hype. If you really go overboard (by buzzing the hype),  you have jumped the shark; “a moment of downturn for a previously successful enterprise” (a Happy Days reference, so it has to be cool).

The subject line of this post is something I tweeted earlier today. Actually, the whole Tweet wasReputation is a goal, building Trust is a goal; Transparency is not goal, it is a path to each“. This was in response to a typical contrarian post, someone picking on the word, but this one bothered me. For starters, transparency is not a goal, it is a characteristic of a person or if you have a strong leader, an organization. I believe it is a very important characteristic, one that often leads to building trust and then a supporting element of a positive reputation. I take issue with selectively being transparent, you are or you are not. That does not mean that for security, competitive or privacy reasons, certain information does not need to be held close. Stating that certain things cannot be shared is transparent, as long as everyone is treated equally and it is stated.

When doing just the slightest bit of research today, I came upon a good post, which quoted The 2010 Edelman Global Trust Barometer:

For the first time trust and transparency rank as important to corporate reputation as the quality of products and services.  In fact, in the U.S. and in much of Western Europe, those two attributes rank higher than product quality and far outrank financial returns.

In other words, I am not making this up, this is real and you should probably pay attention. I could pick on the wording a little, as I did with my Tweet, and suggest the modest differentiation between trust and transparency. Trust is something earned. There are many things which go into earning it, and it trust is one of (maybe the core) the components which make up reputation. Many believe that transparency, the ability to witness with an unobstructed view, what is going on, helps organizations to build trust – maybe even more quickly. If I can witness how an organization treat others, for example, I may be willing to take a risk and ‘trust them’ sooner than if knew very little about them. Just for completeness, ‘open’ is not the same as transparency, open is one level deeper. Open suggests that I can not only see through the window, but I can walk through the front door and participate.

What led me to this post this week, in addition to what I mentioned above? The FastCompany influencer project, which I talked about in a previous post here. In addition to everything I talked about above. Is it possible to be influenced (positively) by someone who I do not trust? Is trust a binary thing – I do or I do not? For example, I can trust that you want to do the right thing, but that does not mean I trust you to do the right thing (just try getting in a car with a new driver). The topic of influence and trust are aligned, this is an area I hope to explore further, but it is not simple. I do know that Trust can be fragile, and gaining it takes work, but it can be gone in an instant.

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